On Saturday at Santiago’s Estadio Nacional, Argentina and Chile will vie not just for the 2015 Copa America title but to finally bring their long trophy droughts to an end. The final of this year’s South American championship is the one many wanted and expected, with the hosts taking on last year’s World Cup finalists, and on paper, at least, the continent’s current leading force. And for both the stakes are phenomenally high.
In the Copa America’s 99th year, Chile are seeking their first ever victory, and, indeed, their first title of any kind. Playing in front of fervent home support and with arguably the greatest team in the country’s history, the four-times losing Copa America finalists have surely never had a better chance to finally earn some silverware.
But signs of the pressure have perhaps begun to show in the tournament’s knockout stages. Having topped their group, Chile edged a tense and fractious quarterfinal with Uruguay and then stuttered past neighbors Peru, 2-1, in the last four.
But throughout the philosophy of the team has remained the same. The upsurge in the team’s fortunes was started in 2007 by Argentinean Marcelo Bielsa, who introduced a high-pressing, attacking style, and is now continued by his compatriot and disciple Jorge Sampaoli. And, despite going up against an Argentina team featuring some of the world’s top attacking talent -- including Lionel Messi -- Sampaoli has stressed that Chile’s style will remain the same.
“Our preparations have been similar to previous matches,” he said, according to FIFA.com. “Of course we are taking some things into consideration about our opponents, but our system will not change. We will try to dominate the game, and the game may depend on who dominates who. But the system we have used has given us the opportunity to be where we are now, in the final, and we intend to continue playing the same way.”
Argentina provided a powerful warning of the damage they can wreck when thumping Paraguay 6-1 in the semifinals. The manner of the victory came as a real relief after a team containing Messi, Sergio Agüero and Ángel di María along others could surprisingly manage only four goals through their first four matches. But the task now is to turn the country’s undoubted talent into silverware.
Despite producing some of the world’s best players in the intervening time, the country’s last Copa America success and trophy success of any kind came in 1993. It was just last year that Argentina came agonizingly close to winning the biggest prize of all when losing to Germany in the World Cup final after extra-time. But manager Tata Martino, who took over following the tournament in Brazil, suggested the experience could stand his team in good stead on Saturday.
“There's an emotional aspect here,” he said, reports the Copa America’s official website. “But the players know all about that because they played in the World Cup final. They know exactly what they are going to face. In these cases, the importance of the prize tends to divert the attention away from the match, so I think the best thing we can do is to ensure we play like the team we are usually.”
Both teams could go into the final missing a key defender. Chile already know they will be without Gonzalo Jara after being given an initial three-match suspension -- later reduced to two -- for his unsavory part in the altercation that led to Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani being sent off in their quarterfinal. Argentina, meanwhile, still have some doubt over the fitness of Ezequiel Garay, who has been struggling with illness and missed their semifinal win. But the Zenit St. Petersburg center-back has returned to training ahead of the final.
Kickoff time: 4 p.m. EDT
TV channel: beIN Sports, beIN Sports en español